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Why is Playing with My Kids So Hard?

Jun10

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I just had a baby which means I do a lot of nursing. Like A LOT of nursing. And I started to notice that it’s made me more present for my four other kids. That woman who was constantly running around the house – cleaning, wiping, collecting, sorting, polishing, organizing and folding has been replaced by one who does a lot more sitting.

Which means I’m more available to just be with my children – reading, talking and laughing. You know, enjoying them.

I have always been very strong at the “care taking” part of parenthood. I get the lunches made, the children dressed, the laundry done, the toys put away and the permission slips signed. But I’ve never been all that great at the “playing” part.

I remember one afternoon when my then 5-year-old asked me to play Barbie dolls with her. I find imaginary play particularly tortuous. But I said, “Yes!” I think I made it a whole 16 minutes before I glanced at my phone. In my defense, it was a very productive 16 minutes where I dressed a lot of Barbie dolls for a big party and they all had chicken and cake for dinner and then went horseback riding and then to their jobs as veterinarians.

I’ve realized that a lot of my mom friends have this same challenge. Dina DellaSalla, a mother to three kids, is one of them. She says, “For some reason when I am home I always feel like there are 10 million things I need to be doing and sitting down playing isn’t one of them.  When I do sit down and try to let it go, all that is running through my head is, did I switch the laundry, what am I going to make for dinner, did I confirm that play date with so and so….”

Maybe we should all put “playing” on our to do list.  And Dina realizes, her kids don’t care what the house looks like.

“When my kids are older, I want them to remember that I stayed home with them to take care of them, to be around and present, not that I was here but never had actual time to be with them. They don’t care if the dishes are put away or the laundry is folded, they just want me to play with them.”

So how can you be more present for your kids?

  • Put your phone away. Many of us aren’t even aware of how often we glance at our smart phones so make a commitment to put it out of sight for certain periods of time.
  • Schedule playtime. Designate a certain period of time when you will sit down and play with your kids. No phone calls. No cleaning. No dinner preparations. Just be present and play. (I know. I make it sound so easy.  It’s not.)
  • Get out of the house. I’ve always found it easier to focus on my children when I’m away from all those dirty dishes and unmade beds. So hit the playground and free yourself temporarily from housework and errands.
  • Figure out what you enjoy doing with your children the most and focus on those activities. I am much better at reading, playing games or jumping on the trampoline than playing dolls or other imaginary play. So I try to stay with my strengths as often as I can.
  • Learn about PRIDE parenting skills. This is a special technique (part of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy) used to strengthen the emotional connection with your child. It’s a technique used specifically to help strained parent and child relationships. However, I think all parents can benefit from the principles. PRIDE stands for Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe and Enthusiasm. Basically, you set up a special play time with your child and apply these PRIDE skills during the session. During this time, you ask no questions, make no commands and offer no criticism.  The child leads the play and directs the conversation. You can find examples here of how to apply this PRIDE technique.

So what helps you be more present with your kids? Please share with the rest of us!

About the author

Kelcey Kintner

http://www.mamabirddiaries.com/
Kelcey Kintner writes the humor blog, The Mama Bird Diaries and co-founded the cheeky advice site, The Mouthy Housewives. This Columbia Journalism School graduate also drives a gold minivan because you can't fit five kids on a Vespa. An award winning journalist, she still secretly longs to be an Olympic ice skater. You can follow her on Twitter @mamabirddiaries.


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4 Responses to “Why is Playing with My Kids So Hard?”

  1. Sarah Jun 10 at 8:45 am Reply Reply

    I don’t think not playing with kids is “bad parenting”. I think they need to learn how to play with peers or alone while you do what you have to do as a parent. I think spending time together is important of course (going for a walk, apple picking, decorating the Christmas tree, cooking together) but as far as playing barbies or kickball or something…maybe sometimes… but i don’t think a parent should feel like a bad parent if they don’t want to or don’t have time.

  2. laura g Jun 10 at 10:07 am Reply Reply

    I hadn’t heard of PRIDE before, thanks for sharing! It reminds me of the mind/body/soul time in If I Have to Tell You One More Time, but with more explicit guidance. I like it!! 

  3. Jennifer Jun 10 at 3:17 pm Reply Reply

    As an expectant mom, I don’t have any first hand experience with this yet. However, I can see how making time to connect with your children is extremely important. I don’t think it’s so much about taking the time to play (although fostering healthy activities and creativity are important), it’s more about the connections you make as you are doing something one-on-one with you child. It gives you a chance to really listen to what they are saying, and it gives you an opportunity to say things to your child when he/she is really listening.

  4. Andrea Jun 10 at 8:11 pm Reply Reply

    So happy that I’m not alone! I don’t enjoy “playing” with my kids like my husband does and I always felt like a bad parent for that. Don’t get me wrong…I love my kids, but I much prefer outings, activities, etc!

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